Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Legion of Super Heroes: Phantoms

I love this episode.

But first I will relate some Legion of Super Heroes stories about my daughter, which will no doubt be of interest to the handful of people who actually read these posts.

We were playing on the playground and she scurried up the metal ladder. I feigned surprise and asked her how she got up there so quickly. She answered, "I used my flight ring!"

I'm going to pretend people actually read that instead of skimming ahead to the actual review. Here it is.

While moping around in the Superman museum, Clark discovers a Phantom Zone projector, and accidentally releases a prisoner from within. (Even though the episode is called Phantoms, nobody actually calls it the Phantom Zone. Likewise, when Brainy breaks out some kryptonite later in the episode, it's not referred to by name either.)

Everybody's got a theory about who this guy is. I don't think he maps exactly to anyone in any version of continuity, but he's probably closest to Mon-El. I mean, Superman analogue, immune to Kryptonite, trapped in the Phantom Zone? Sounds good to me. The big problem is that presumably the little sphere where Brainy keeps the Kryptonite is made out of lead, to which Damaxites are vulnerable, and Drax doesn't react to it.

Maybe he's some kind of clone of Superman! Yeah, from the 41st Century! And his creators integrated Kryptonite into his DNA, and that's why he's immune to it!

Naw, that's just silly.

God, I hated the second season.

Moving on...

Not-Mon-El and his two dog-monster things begin a rampage across New Metropolis. He slugs it out with Superman, the Legion and the Science Police for quite a while. Sometimes the non-Superman Legionnaires harry him, and other times they deal with his pets. And again, I'm impressed with how the series deals with the wildly different power levels of Superman and the rest of the team without having Superman overshadow them completely. Either a team of Legionnaires together can make a respectable showing against a Superman level threat (and really, at its core, I think that's what the Legion is about, working together to make a contribution that would be impossible individually) or dealing with several smaller issues, like damage control or fighting the hounds on their own.

Phantom Girl protects Saturn Girl from a thrown truck
Timber Wolf takes the hell hounds for a ride
Top Dog

Drax hears voices in his head that cause him pain and which tell him he's evil, always has been, and always will be. Later on, when asked why he's doing these things, he gives that response almost verbatim ("Because I'm evil. Always have been, always will be."), leading me to conclude that he'd been brainwashed by the villains in the Phantom Zone .

Drax gets away, and the Legion sans Brainy goes out to catch his pets when they resurface. After a little bit of this, Superman gets a hunch that Brainy might be in trouble, so he returns to Legion headquarters. We have a cute bit with Phantom Girl and Timber Wolf in the sewers, which I already covered in the Child's Play review and then we cut to Brainiac 5 and what follows is probably my favorite Brainy sequence in the series.

Drax is manhandling Brainy and threatens to take him apart piece by piece unless Brainy gives him the Phantom Zone projector. Knowing that it's hopeless, Brainiac puts his palm on the scanner to open the safe and retrieves, not the projector, but a chunk of Kryptonite.

Drax is puzzled for a moment, before he laughs and says that he's not vulnerable to those "little green rocks." I love the expression on Brainy's face as he protectively pulls the Krytonite away.

Before you can say, "Hey, thanks for that Kryptonite," Drax superspeeds around his back and plucks it from his hand. Then he picks up Brainy in a Byrne hold and wonders what other secrets he's keeping.

In answer, Brainiac 5 transforms into his Coluan war form and punches Drax through a wall.

But he merely got in a lucky punch, and he's outclassed. Drax avoids the next blow and then catches Brainy's fist when he tries it again.

Drax is about to crush him when Superman intervenes and resumes their city-spanning brawl. He gets a hold of the projector and tries to send Drax back to the Phantom Zone, but Drax lunges at him and causes him to zap the other Legionnaires instead. They tear up the town some more and the fight continues into the Legion HQ.

Superman is blasted into a dark room, but he orders the Legion's caretaker computer to turn on the lights, "Computo, lights! Also, kill Triplicate Girl." (Okay, maybe that last part is wishful thinking on my part. Stupid Triplicate Girl.)

He continues the fight with Drax, while Brainy tries to engineer an escape from the Phantom Zone. It's a neat scene, because we get a lot of villains who look very familiar. He reverses the polarity of the neutron flow and they open a portal to the Legion HQ, where Superman boots Drax back to the Phantom Zone, along with the Kryptonite.

The thing I like most is that Brainy is relieved by the loss of the Kryptonite. It's an eminently sensible precaution to take if you're fishing Superman out of the past, but he really wants to be Superman's friend and he really wants Superman to like him, so removing that option from the table is a relief to him.

I would have really liked seeing Mon-El in the Legion, and I like to think that's what they were doing here when they introduced Drax. I forget where I read it now, but I recall that the showrunners wanted to use Mon-El, but the network thought he would be too confusing, and well, there's more than a little truth to that suggestion. It's not like Legion continuity makes a lot of sense to the uninitiated anyway, and Mon-El in particular is second only to the Time Trapper when in comes to being tied in Gordian knots. See this excellent post at the Legion Abstract for a good analysis about the problems with Mon-El.

I don't think that's an insurmountable obstacle, though. Just have a simplified version of his history (and I see you nodding and saying, "Yes, Josh, because what the world needs is another version of Mon-El's history"), but saying he was poisoned by lead and left in the Phantom Zone until a cure could be devised, and leave out all the rest of the stuff until it comes up in the course of the narrative.

It's hard to say if I enjoyed this more than The Substitutes or not. Both episodes are so different that it's hard to compare them. I don't think it's the best episode of the series (that'd be the two-parter with Ferro Lad), but it is tremendously entertaining.

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